A devoutly religious friend noticed the first part of the title of the book I was reading, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Inconsistencies in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), and asked if that was like the Angelina Jolie movie Girl, Interrupted where, you may know, the story takes place in a mental institution. I was quite startled and could only utter a flat ’no’. I don’t know why I bring this up, but actually when I initially saw the title I thought of the movie. Author Bart Ehrman’s title is rather provocative. You wonder if he means that Jesus’ life was literally interrupted by his arrest, trial and execution or if the spiritual meaning of his life was interrupted, in a way, by the reality of time (rather than insanity). With the back cover blurb headed by the phrase ’The Human Story Behind The Divine Book,’ I’m pretty sure he meant the latter.
This is only my second Ehrman book, having recently relished Lost Christianities, but there was some noticeable overlap that I mostly skimmed over. I did enjoy the book and found it worthwhile, but more so because a Catholic neighbor expressed warm interest in hearing my thoughts about it. I told him that Ehrman was an Evangelical Christian from his teen years until becoming a liberal one after graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary, then became an agnostic fifteen years later. His books, however, are not written to push his agnosticism on anybody.
While his historical-critical education, opposed to his devotional study to that point, shocked him into realizing that the Bible is filled with too many inconsistencies, forgeries, diverging views and contradictions to be the inspired word of God, he held on to his faith until, as he explains in the closing pages of Jesus, Interrupted, he came to believe ’the religion built up around God and Jesus was based…on various myths, not historical fact.’ Ehrman could resonate with these myths in spite of knowing what he and all biblical scholars for centuries have known and taught, that Christianity is no longer a religion of Jesus but only a created one about him. Then there came a time when the myths no longer were something he could respond to because they couldn’t explain the pervasive problem of suffering in the world.
Yet he continues to teach the New Testament at the University of North Carolina (and Rutgers I think) because, as he puts it, the Bible ’is the most important book in the history of Western Civilization.’ He also points out that it’s the most read, revered, studied and misunderstood. Even if it’s not divinely inspired, he argues that we can still learn from it as a historical record of the thoughts, beliefs and experiences of people who helped to build the foundation of our civilization and culture. It may inspire us to be philosophical, to pursue truth and justice, to live more fully and for others. By learning of the historical Jesus, who was an apocalyptic Jewish preacher who never claimed to be divine and instead expected a Kingdom of God on Earth within his disciples’ lifetimes, a person’s faith doesn’t need to be challenged but understood differently. Remythologized, if you will, for this world and not his first-century one.
There are eight, very accessible chapters for the average reader, as you would hope a religious professor would be. The helpful titles are: A Historical Assault on Faith; A World of Contradictions; A Mass of Variant Views; Who Wrote The Bible?; Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? Finding the Historical Jesus; How We Got The Bible; Who Invented Christianity?; Is Faith Possible?. Notes follow the 284 pages.
I knew some of this stuff already from the earlier book I read and other authors, but Ehrman noted and explained many discrepancies in the New Testament (as found with the historical-critical method of reading it) that I hadn‘t noticed. He confines himself to only the most significant ones, such as the very different ways that Jesus dies and speaks from the cross in the four gospels. As Ehrman explains, these books are written by different Greek writers with their own views of Jesus and cannot be harmonized with each other. Mark’s Jesus suffered and felt abandoned by God on the cross while the other gospel writers did not, but showed him as not suffering, more in control of the situation, and only knowing he was divine in John’s gospel. Another example is how Mark’s gospel, which was written decades earlier than the others but still about forty years after Jesus’ death, puts the responsibility of his death on the Romans while the others increasingly blame the Jews. Ehrman points out that the Jews, of which Jesus was one, never expected a suffering messiah but a warrior king like David. Jesus only believed he was announcing the Kingdom of God that had already begun.
Ehrman also discussses Paul, the earliest Christian writer, who he observes had his own ideas about what Christianity was about and how it should be followed. Many of the letters attributed to him were not actually written by him and it confused/distorted his message. Obviously there's much more to Ehrman's book that should fascinate anybody interested in Early Christianity and how it chaotically evolved into a religion Jesus wouldn't recognize.
Please note that these are not simply Ehrman’s views, but what the vast majority of biblical scholars believe to be fact and teach pastors. Only he of his seminary class seemed to be affected by learning what they did, but he wrote Jesus, Interrupted - and Misquoting Jesus before it - because he feels we deserve to know the historical-critical truth to better understand our faith (or history I‘d add).
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